By Scott Keith –
– A Tribute James Arne Nestingen –
I’m stepping a little outside of my normal venue today and into an idea I’ve been dealing with for some time. Over the past four years, I have had the great pleasure of having Dr. James Arne Nestingen (Jim) as my Ph.D. dissertation supervisor. During that time we have had discussions on a wide range of topics. While, on the whole, those discussion centered on Philip Melanchthon, the subject of my dissertation, many of our conversations have dealt with the difficulties facing the Church in our age. During one of those discussions, Jim brought up the idea of Secondary Confirmation as a possible help. This was a concept that he derived from a book he edited in the 70s by Richard E. Koenig, A Creative Minority.
If you were raised in the Lutheran Church, chances are you attended Confirmation. For those of you who are unaware, Confirmation is the formal education given to children in the church when they are in 7th and 8th grade, often younger these days, wherein they receive catechetical instruction in the Christian faith. Typically, this instruction in centered on Luther’s Small Catechism and its six chief parts: (1) The Ten Commandments; (2) The Lord’s Prayer; (3) The Apostle’s Creed; (4) Baptism; (5) Confession and Absolution; and (6) the Lord’s Supper. During confirmation, the pastor instructs the children using the Catechism and Holy Scriptures on these basic parts of the Christian Faith. In these classes, it could be said that children learn what it is to be Christian – specifically – a Lutheran Christian.
So if we are already confirming children, why is Secondary Confirmation needed? Recent surveys by the Barna Group have shed light on this trend by examining those 18- to 29-year-olds who used to identify themselves closely with faith and the church, but who have since begun to wrestle with that identity. In fact, between high school and turning 30, 43% of these once-active Millennials drop out of regular church attendance—that amounts to eight million twentysomethings who have, for various reasons, given up on church or Christianity. Over half of Millennials with a Christian background, some 59% have, at some point, dropped out of going to church after having gone regularly, and half have been significantly frustrated by their faith. The reality is that Christianity is a cultural minority and it is high time we stopped acting like we rule the roost and start acting like a people under seige.
So what is Secondary Confirmation and how will it help? It is the idea that this training in the faith, should not, ought not, and cannot stop once the children kneel during the rite of Christian Confirmation. Secondary Confirmation teaches that instruction, training, loving, and caring for the young, so that they remain in the faith, extends through to the family, the community, the schools and colleges, as well as the Lutheran community as a whole. Secondary Confirmation challenges families to reprioritize life so that the narrative of what it means to be a Christian is passed down to our children at all stages of their life and development.
How is this done? This is not a simple question, and it implies an answer that cannot be fully addressed in this short blog. But what follows is a short preview of a Secondary Confirmation plan. First tend the narrative, tell the story! Christ died and rose for all, for you and me. Young adults and children love stories. Tend this narrative, and tell the story to your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and even other members of your church. Make the Gospel of Christ a priority that is on your lips ready to jump off and be shared at a moments notice. Second, if and when possible, try to pray together as a family and worship together as a family; study the Catechism and the Scriptures together as a family at home. Extend your life of faith beyond Sunday morning; let your life of faith infect your entire week with the Gospel of Christ and with His forgiveness. Third, encourage that in your personal life, as well as in your church, works of service to neighbor for Christ’s sake become a true priority. Support financially and with time and talents those Christian and Lutheran organizations that are truly doing God’s work and sharing and supporting the message of free forgiveness in Christ with the world. Heck, maybe think about volunteering yourself. Fourth, encourage your grown children who are away at school or on their own to continue in the life of the Church. Weekly worship is where we hear the message of forgiveness and receive strength in the Sacraments. (See Cindy, I don’t hate Church.) If your grown children––or your close personal friends like the Cantankerous Critic––are falling down in this area, pick them up; help them to find a congregation where Christ’s Word is faithfully, consistently, and unashamedly preached and go with them when and if possible. Remind them of how important this is by doing it with them, just like when they were young. Finally, support one another in love and charity, pray for one another, and encourage and forgive one another in the consolation of the faith that is trust in God’s mercy on account of Christ handed down to one another in words of forgiveness.
This idea has changed my life and perspective on many areas of family relationships, and has reminded me of how important it is to share the forgiveness we have been given on account of Christ alone. And I promise next week to bring some cranky back. I’ve just been too damned happy lately.